Does Your Family Have a Collective Trauma Worth Healing?

Doesn’t every family have some degree of trauma in it; that perhaps ranges from somewhat mild to severe? This is a question I’ve been reflecting on these last few weeks for a variety of reasons, including wondering how a family experiences trauma individually and collectively and how, when it makes sense, a family can engage healing in its system?

When a family experiences the same trauma circumstances – an event or a long-standing relationship where trauma has been inflicted – each member of that family experiences the trauma differently. When removed from the trauma, the trauma lives on in each of us, in our cellular memory, in our minds and imaginations, continuing to affect each of us, each in our own way and collectively too. There is some shared aspect of the trauma, but the way we each remember our experience will have its own flavour, its own story, its own influence. What this looks and feels like can depend on your role in the family, in and with the trauma, your age and other factors too.

The family system that is interested in healing can explore the impact of trauma as they collectively experienced some element of it. That part can feel easy because it seems like everyone is in agreement. However, it becomes more challenging for family members to completely coalesce around the impact on any one individual because the experiences differ. Each family member needs healing for the full family system to heal; but the validation, acknowledgement or healing they each need is likely different.

We each have different assumptions and expectations of what we need to heal and what we think others need to heal. We may think we need certain things – acknowledgements, validations – from other members of the family. And whether or not they arrive – or when – might not be according to our own sense of timing.

Individually, it can be hard to identify and hard to express our hopes, expectations and experiences. What, in your own mind, feels like a straightforward ask, can seem less so when it is said out loud. The support and validation you are looking for might not arrive if your own experience contradicts someone else’s interpretation because of their own experience, their own story or their own trauma or if they remember your role differently.

What can we do when this happens? Notice your responses or your impulses. For me, when I encounter this, it makes me want to retreat – which is a reflex to “safety”, which is not necessarily safe or helpful for healing. In the noticing, I can make an intentional decision about what I want to do next and I can choose to communicate this with my family members.

Relationships are hard. And, to be clear, not all family relationships need to be or should be maintained. Sometimes the best healing opportunity is to cut off some family ties, as there is no hope for real healing in them. Having said that, for family relationships that are worth maintaining, even they have moments when they are harder than we expect, harder than we want them to be, harder than we hope. They are not all just sunshine, connection and laughs around the dinner table. They are also hard truths we may not want to hear.

Many, if not most, families are not skilled enough to know how to navigate family healing well. Most of us didn’t learn it growing up. There were no role models to look to. There are always some families who seem to know how to love and support each other no matter what. And there are some families so full of challenges and damage that no one seems to know how to navigate the individual and collective hurts. These families are more likely to fall apart, to stop talking to each other, to embody the pain and perhaps pass it on through intergenerational trauma.

intergenerational picture

What holds a family together in its healing? A few key things we have been learning:

  • Valuing self and valuing others too, so one is not meant to always be subservient to the other.
  • Valuing the family relationships enough to do the work required. Being willing to prioritize the relationships but not to the point of not addressing the trauma or other family challenges that show up. Avoidance only drives the emotions underground and, when they surface in their own ways, they tend to be even more destructive.
  • Give precedence to listening even as you want to be heard. Listen for understanding with compassion and curiosity, not for how to debate someone else’s experience or even your own. Be willing to listen, really listen, even when it’s hard.
  • Discern when to lean in and when to lean back. Learn to discern what needs to happen, be explored or discussed in the presence of others and what can be done on your own.
  • Be willing to drop a point of discussion with someone once you have heard it so you can digest it later if need be or take it to your own healing space.
  • Be willing to step back from being right, from insisting on being heard if that will not help in the moment. Be able to give space without backing away.
  • Find the language to stay focused on what is most important without lashing out in attack when you don’t like what you hear or can’t figure out how to make sense of it or are simply frustrated. Let it go rather than rehash it over and over again when it no longer serves. Come to terms and to peace with it.
  • Then, learn how to stay in relationship when the conversation is over. Learn how to apologize when it is deserved and even occasionally when you don’t think it is deserved. It might be the very thing that breaks an impasse and allows you all to get to a new level of healing with each other.
  • Hold space with and for each other, when you are together and apart.
  • Learn you can hang together through the tough stuff because it all matters.

These conversations hurt my heart. They also heal my heart. Without them, we would lose some of the core soul in our family constellation and it helps us love each other and be together better, if we focus on the love and healing, if we allow it.

And, bonus, if we pause to dig into the healing now, we heal back and forth along the lineages and that is worth it too. It’s powerful work. What are the family relationships and what family trauma is worth healing enough for you to stay in, stick with it and work it through?


Note: I am not a therapist. This is written from my heart, my experiences and my observations and reflections in my own families and in conversations with many others about this topic.

The difference between acting on impulse and acting on intuition?

Have you ever had an intuitive hit and acted on impulse as a result, only to find yourself shortly afterwards questioning your judgment? This happened to me this week, which caused me to wonder what is the difference between acting on impulse and acting on intuition? I put the question out there on FB (on January 3/18) and it evoked a beautiful exchange of thoughts and ideas and gave some insight into our collective consciousness about words, how we use them and how we interpret them. It reminded me that language matters and we don’t all mean the same thing by the same words.

Generally, among my group of friends – admittedly a more “new-agey” (can I say that?), spiritually focused reference group – intuition was more positively perceived, impulse less positively perceived. Intuition seen as action, impulse seen as reaction, acting for immediate gratification, by-passing mindfulness and intuitive knowing.

A definition of intuition is having knowledge without proof, evidence, or conscious reasoning, or without understanding how the knowledge was acquired. Impulse was much more laden with negative assumptions or interpretations from the word being included in the name of psychiatric disorders to inclusion of words like failure to resist temptation or making unplanned decisions.

My favourite response is that the two do not have to be mutually exclusive (something we talk about often in our Worldview Intelligence work) and I could act on impulse arising out of my intuitive knowing. Trusting my intuitive knowing and discerning it from other things (desperation, a need for action over reflection or the need for immediate gratification as three “for instances”) is a practice developed and honed over time. And I loved the question, “I wonder if there is any such thing as impulse that grows quietly over time?”

My impulse that generated the question was to respond immediately to a FB post by virtual friend Chris Zydel, remarking that in addition to all the other delicious things she does (mostly by her posts helping people express themselves through art), she does astrological readings. I had never had mine done before, partly because it is only in the last year that I discovered my time of birth. I immediately responded, found out the cost, commitment proceeded quickly and then I wondered about the impulsivity of the decision.

However, 2018 feels like a portentous year for me and for the Worldview Intelligence work I do with my partner. It has had this energy as 2017 closed and the new year opened. The question of what more could I do to ground the energy and help bring possibilities to fruition was in my awareness so when this invitation showed up it evoked an immediate response. And, as it turns out, it was exactly right, exactly what I needed now. The reading was amazing, explained a lot and pointed me in the direction of healing that will be helpful to grounding more of my energy in 2018.

There are many times I have acted on intuition – sometimes quick and impulsive like this decision and sometimes the slow burn described above – where the result has been powerful. Some examples are the decision to embark on my Art of Hosting journey, to go to Bowen Island in 2005 for my first training. It was a bit of slow burn but decisive when it came time to make the decision. The decision the following year to go to Hollyhock for my first Circle Practicum was impulsive – a decision made in the moment of meeting Christina Baldwin without the awareness of what it was going to take to get me there (planes, ferries and automobiles). The decision to go to Gold Lake Colorado in 2009 was a slow burn but the knowing I needed to go was present from the very first moment I opened an invitation to go there – and it deepened my spiritual journey in the most beautiful and unexpected ways. The decision to attend the first Shamanic Convergence near Halifax in 2009 despite financial challenges was more of a slow burn. The decision for my second divorce I knew years before I could find it within me to act on but those years were used for personal and spiritual growth and development, finding support along the way. In the moments of decision – and there were a few along the way – so much fell into place it was a good lesson in trusting the timing of events.

The decision to bring into form – the Worldview Intelligence work that Jerry and I now do was a long series of steps and decisions based on following the energy and hosting the space for it to come into form – intuitive for sure but not impulsive – steady.

In today’s world, we often give too much credence to logic and rationality when, in fact, decision making is always emotional as proved by neuro-scientist Antonio Damasio in his research on people whose emotional brains have been damaged. We use the facts to support what we want to do or know we need to do but we cannot make decisions without the use of our emotional brains.

intuitive knowingIn the thread on my FB post some suggested that we know in retrospect whether we acted on impulse or intuition based on the outcome. The more I reflect on that thought the more I wonder if we don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we know – for both our intuitive and impulsive decisions or our intuitively impulsive decisions. When we can remove self doubt, self criticism, shame, the “voices of others” we carry in our heads (sometimes affectionately referred to as the itty-bitty-shitty committee), all the “should” and “should nots” and when we practice clearing and keeping open our channels to our own inner core and to whatever form of greater power, wisdom or knowledge we believe in, we are far more intuitive and powerful than we might like to acknowledge.

In retrospect, I don’t regret any of the intuitive decisions I’ve made in my journey to greater openheartedness – whether seemingly impulsive or slow burn. What about you? What do you discover when you reflect on the role of intuition and impulse in your journey?

With thanks to each friend who graciously contributed to the thread.

When the Story Becomes Hollow

We use stories to make sense of our experiences. These stories shift and change over the course of our relationship with them. The way we speak of an experience that just happened is different than the way we speak of that same experience a few weeks, months or many years later.

Our relationship with our stories defines and shapes us to greater and lesser degrees. Sometimes we become very attached to the story we tell, to the version of ourselves we have lived out over time.

Some of these stories are truly defining moments of our lives. Some of them offer moments of journey we visit over and over again, looking for lessons learned, looking for healing, looking for moving on. When I wrote Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness I described it as a process of peeling back the layers of the onion, only the onion seems to grow new layers even as we are shedding the outer ones. It can be annoying, frustrating and downright disheartening when we discover the story we thought we had outgrown still has life within us.

onion-276586_960_720These story themes are rooted deep within us. Depending on your beliefs, some of these patterns may have been carried into this life time from past lives (or future lives perhaps) and some of them may be within us as a result of being passed from one generation to another. We might not know or discover the root of the patterns we live out in life, relationship or typical conflicts we may find ourselves in.

IMG_4882So, when do you know the story is healed – finally, perhaps forever? I am sure there are many possible barometers but one of them (newly discovered in my awareness) is when the story begins to feel hollow. It has no substance, no catch, no grab, no hijack anymore. Like a quantum resonance you can see or sense it just within your field of awareness – like a ghost image asking to be let go. You could possibly put it on and wear it again, but like that comfortable old coat you use to wear seemingly forever, it no longer fits, no longer offers the protection or service it once did. It no longer defines you or your look – since your physical body often also changes noticeably when new levels of healing take shape.

I’m not sure it is something we achieve. I think it is something that graces our awareness in the moment it is revealed. Then we can acknowledge the journey, thank the story for all it has offered us over the time we have carried it and turn our awareness to the future and to the new story that is already emerging within the fabric of the old one that no longer defines us.

Deep Gifts and Reminders Show Up In a Myriad of Ways

Our deep human/spiritual gifts and reminders show up in a myriad of ways but be warned – or reassured – they will show up.

Twice this week I was reminded that I have the gift of sight – of being able to see beyond the physical into the deeper patterns, the intricate weave of soul stories at work. Once was a beautiful invitation to dance with the spirit guides of a friend who read my memoir – Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness – and asked about his guides. Not many people ask. He was momentarily concerned he had stepped over a line. But in the invitation the guides show up, delighted to be “seen”. Once I see them they dance with me for awhile and it is a joy. They will dance with their human partner too, but not all humans are ready, even when they ask.

Red flowers in Ian's gardenThe second time I was reminded of my gifts it was jarring – where I did not fully realize how deeply I sensed the disconnect between the surface and what is underneath. But my whole body was on heightened alert. In our work, we teach people that their bodies send them messages, their emotions are their guidance system.

This jarring experience reminded me to stop, to listen, to not deny my experience even if others might wish to dim or discredit the voice. I allowed my voice to be discredited for far too long – some years ago now – and a piece of me wandered in the wilderness til I found the motivation and the courage to reclaim it. It was not an easy journey. It was not welcome on some levels – by me or some around me. It was the best gift on other levels as I returned to myself many aspects of myself that I had become a stranger to. This kind of reminder can be intense and it often temporarily throws me off my center but it invites reflection and deeper inquiry, new openings. I struggle less as awareness comes quicker. I regain my ground and look for better, less explosive ways than blowing shit (or my life or my relationships) up as I remember the power, beauty and grace that is also me.

I am grateful for both forms of reminders when they show up. Honestly, more grateful for the first in the immediacy of it and for the second later after time for inquiry and reflection.

When this happens to you, it is helpful to remember you are worthy, you are powerful although we are all a bit broken, the truth does want to be known, no one can take your gifts away from you, you may be doing the work even when you are looking away, offer love and compassion to yourself.

It is a journey. It continually unfolds. It is meaningful and purposeful. And we can invite and embrace both.

tears-of-the-heart

Bearing Witness

Sometimes your task is just to bear witness. And it can bring all of your humanity to the surface. Bearing witness is not necessarily a neutral task. It can be a deeply emotional, heart wrenching but necessary role. It can be absolutely vital to the person(s) or situation you are called to witness. And the question becomes – are you up to it? Are you up to all it asks of you?

candle in people circleIn our Worldview Intelligence Personal Leadership program one of the models we use is the drama triangle. We use it to help participants understand the patterns and roles in drama – our own or others – through how we tell our stories.

It is easy to get caught up in drama – our own or someone else’s. There is some pleasure in the telling of the story, in trading power for sympathy. It is especially easy to get caught up in someone else’s drama with the often mistaken belief that we can rescue them from their own stories, rescue them from themselves. There is something insidious about drama that has people wanting to engage the story, the gossip, the inside scoop of it, to offer advice and solve problems rather than to sit patiently for what wants and needs to unfold. It can be hard to remember that their story is not ours to tell.

I sometimes notice I have to stop myself from embroiling myself in another’s drama, stop the words “how can I help?” from spilling out of my mouth. It is very appealing to imagine ourselves as a “prince” riding in on a white stallion to save the day.

However, you cannot rescue people from themselves and you cannot save them from their own journeys. No matter how hard you try. It is not yours to do. If this is not yours to do, then what is – aside from your own healing journey?

Sometimes it is to hold the space, to bear witness. If the journey you hold space for is intense and heartbreaking, it can be heart wrenching to be a witness. It requires all of who you are to be present. This can seem like no action to someone who desperately wants you to intervene and yet it is sometimes the only action that is possible.

To witness another person into being. To hold the space for that healing journey. These are gifts beyond measure that would be lost if you are not up to the task of bearing witness, not up to the task of listening, or holding space, not up to the task of keeping yourself out of a story that is not yours to live or to tell.

Don’t go looking for it, but when it arrives, notice and appreciate the deep gift of bearing witness. Allow yourself to be heart broken too. Bring compassion to your listening. And, notice the person you bear witness to is not the only recipient of the gift of bearing witness.

When the Shift Happens, You Will Make the Decision

When I was in high school one of my very good friends had an on-again-off-again boyfriend. You know the kind of relationship – together for awhile, break up for awhile and back together before too long. And then there came a time, when she broke it off and it was clear it was for good; there was no turning back. Something happened. Something shifted. A clear decision was made. I later found out that a boundary had been crossed from which there was no turning back. Even though I didn’t know that in the moment, I did know she was never going back to him.

Recently, I was visiting with a friend who has been in an extremely challenging work environment where she is not respected despite the incredible value she brings to that company. She has struggled for a few years trying various things to change the nature of the relationships she must work with. And then an insight showed up resulting in connecting the dots between this situation and others in her soul journey, a shift happened and a decision has been made with clarity that will change the nature of the relationships – likely her departure from the company.

In my own soul journey, it took several subsequent insights and awarenesses added together to create a more seismic shift in order for me to make a decision – finally – to end my second marriage. I tracked a three year journey to get to that point and another nine months before the final decisions were made. Sometimes it is hard to track the more subtle shifts that happen over time that lead to the ability to make different choices but that does not mean they are not present.

When we attempt to run away, we often run back. If not to the same situation or relationship, to another one that resembles it – the same pattern. For a long time I was frustrated with my journey and life choices. I felt stuck. In Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness I describe this journey. Several times I felt like I was at the edge of the abyss, on my tiptoes, leaning over, ready to leap … but then … stepped back. It felt so anti-climatic, almost cowardly. It was hard to hold myself in compassion and grace in those moments.

highway to heart

Over and over again, I asked the question, why have I attracted these circumstances of my life to me. Many times new answers were revealed. “Because, at some level, I feel I deserve to be treated this way.” Boom. Unable to hold some previous decisions in life I had made with compassion, I felt I deserved to be punished. “Because, if I am really as powerful as many people tell me I am, and I keep shying away from that power or cloaking it, it has taken powerful circumstances in my life to force (invite) me to step into my power.” Boom. “Because I have been repeating patterns of my mother’s life – patterns I swore not to be circumscribed by and yet here I am.” And a subsequent revelation that I was repeating patterns of my birth mother’s life long before I ever knew she existed.

What I know, what I experience, what I witness in others so often, is that the decision is made when the shift happens. And we know it when it happens because it feels different. While we may be able to accelerate the journey, it is clear that the decision does not happen until the shift occurs – subtly or dramatically.

So, if you, like I have done, are being hard on yourself because you continue to stay in circumstances you know are not good for you, yearning for a different situation, stay with the journey, stay with the questions, hold the outcomes you are seeking steadily in your awareness.

One day you will feel the shift that marks the point of no return. You will wake up on that day and declare, like I did in one moment, “I am no longer afraid!” The next steps will be appear and you will walk that path with a clarity you did not previously possess. Until that moment – and after it – hold yourself and your journey with compassion and grace – because you deserve it, because it is needed, because you are worthy.

The Rawness of the Great Re-Patterning

This morning I made it safely out of the shower. Why was this an accomplishment? Because the last two times I showered, upon exiting, I was hit with painful, debilitating back spasms. They stopped me in my tracks and caused me to call out in pain. What did I do to cause this? Nothing different than I do any other time I get out of the shower.

When I went to see my chiropractor, Dr. Anne Desneiges at Innerwaves in Halifax, she offered that my back spasms were less physically and more energetically created. I told her the last time this happened was almost a year ago and she began to ask me about significant grief causing events that may have happened in the spring at any point in my life. It occurred to me that my birth mother left in the spring. It was an event I was too young to remember but it was grief filled and traumatic for my birth family and it caused the re-patterning of my life. There are many other spring events I could point to as well, but this stood out.

The muscle spasms originated in my back and were like a band that circled almost the whole way around my body – like a contraction when giving birth, especially the latter stages when the contractions are prolonged and breathtaking. My partner, Jerry Nagel, and I are symbolically in a birthing process with our main body of work, Worldview Intelligence. It has been gestated and incubated over a few years of intense practical and profound application and we have just hired Marc Lewis at 3 o’clock Marketing to create a look, logo, brand and website that will elevate this work into its next level of visibility.

Then I came across Lee Harris’ April video where he talks about the rawness of re-patterning in this current moment. He says it is a time of many mini dark nights of the soul and it cannot be avoided. As is true on the individual level, it is also a fiery time on the world stage as we all can see. This great re-patterning is cranking through all of us, especially the empaths among us.

This kind of levelling up hurts as emotions like grief, sadness and anger that have been abandoned come up for release. Seems it hurts physically as well as emotionally. I have seen and heard of other friends experiencing physical pain. And I am aware of friends displaying monumental acts of courage as they work to re-pattern relationships in their life that have been harmful.

It is clear that re-patterning is at work on the world stage as we look at the impacts of politics in the US, Brexit, the emergence of gay concentration camps in Chechnya and so much more. It is impossible to avoid if you watch the news or follow social media. It can be a relief to know that this kind of re-patterning is a natural and essential part of evolution – even if it doesn’t feel evolutionary in this moment.

So, what to do? Harris talked about daily practice and repetition. What lights you up? What are the practices or routines you have that put you in your center, especially when those around you are also off their centers? Do these things regularly even if just for minutes at a time. I would add, be self compassionate. This is all part of the natural rhythms of energy and life. And Harris has a reminder of us that I have often felt to be true – there is so much higher energy available to us with an abundance of guidance. It is not either/or, these are not distinctly separate things. Lower and higher energy and vibrations exist on a continuum. We can move ourselves up the continuum at any time simply by putting our attention and focus there.

If this kind of re-patterning is happening, maybe the best thing we can do is surrender into it and allow ourselves to level up.

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